Home Animation Anticipation: The 12 Basic Principles of Animation

Anticipation: The 12 Basic Principles of Animation

Anticipation Illustration

We’re covering the 12 Basic Principles of Animation one principle at a time! Next up is antici…pation! Learn what it means, why you need to know it, what it looks like, and how to use it to become the best animator you can be.

What is Anticipation?


Anticipation is a little workhorse of the 12 Basic Principles of Animation. It’s often easy to forget it in our work as we can concentrate on making nice poses, timing, smooth motion, etc…but without it our animation can end up looking robotic.

Some examples of anticipation:
• Entire body squashing down before jumping off a building

• The heel of the foot pressing down before a step

• Mouth compressing before opening to speak

• An eye blink before a head turn

As you can see from the list, the size of the anticipation does not matter. It can be broad or subtle.

Anticipation Illustration

A broad form of anticipation as illustrated here by Richard Williams.

Why do animators need anticipation?

Let’s take a look at anticipation at work in the classic bouncing ball. To illustrate it clearly we’ll have the ball start from a static pose and then do a simple bounce.

Here’s bouncing ball with no anticipation. See how the jump into air seems unmotivated and we have no idea when it is about to happen.

By adding a “squash” pose before the jump into the air, we add anticipation to the jump action. It also serves nicely to store up the energy to motivate the upward leap. The ball begins to have life already!

Here’s bouncing ball with anticipation. Note how we are now prepared for the jump into the air each time and therefore can fully enjoy it. Not to mention the Anticipation adds an element of the principle of squash and stretch!

Anticipation is really something that tells the audience that a new idea is going to occur. It prepares them for it so when it happens they can enjoy it and not get caught off-guard. That’s not to say the nature of it can’t be a surprise. In fact, anticipation can actually help a surprise moment by helping build the suspense that something is about to happen. The audience is then prepared to look for it instead of missing it.

The most common and easily seen examples of anticipation are in broad actions. You may have heard the classic definition of “moving in the opposite direction first”. It’s like a baseball batter’s wind up before the swing or leaning to the right before starting to move to the left.

However this is but one type of anticipation. To always use or think of it this way can lead to stock-looking animation that is basic and merely following known rules that work but lack that extra individuality and organic quality.

Here we’ll try two forms of anticipation on a simple head turn to look at their differences:

Here’s a simple head turn with no anticipation of any kind.

And here we have added “stock” anticipation of the head moving in the opposite direction first. While this helps break up the motion with the principle of overlapping action, it can be a less natural choice – here it makes the head turn look like a classic double-take.

Using the eyelids and pupil’s eye direction as an anticipation. We’ve taken out the opposite head move, and now the eyes start closing and the pupils move before the head turn.

And just for sake of comparison, here are all the anticipations. Opposite head move and eyes. It still works, but the point is to be sure you’re using the best forms of anticipation for the performance you want to achieve.

How to master anticipation

In terms of physics, anticipation can help sell the build-up and storage of energy before initiating a new physical action, like the crouch pose in the Richard Williams example above. An important aspect to master is to make sure the timing, velocity, and broadness of the anticipation pose work in sync with the ensuing action. It’s almost like a math problem, the anticipation and the following action need to add up or it won’t look believable.

This mistake can crop up anywhere, but superhero animation is a common place. In order to make a superhero look superhuman often the direction is to “make it faster”. This in itself is ok. Where it breaks down is where the storing up of the energy in the anticipation is not sufficient to sell the subsequent faster-than-possible movement. Usually the anticipation is too small and/or too short in timing. A superhuman move is easier to accept if there is a proper anticipation before doing the hidden work of selling it.

Quick Tip: Finding Missing Anticipation

As we all know, it can be hard to be objective with our animation. We grow used to it, watching it thousands of times over and over, so we already know what’s going to happen. Our eye no longer needs anticipation to help. The consequence is that we don’t know when we’re leaving it out!

How can we catch this? One trick is to play your animation backwards. What was an anticipation now acts like a bit of the principle of “follow-through”.

An example would be the footfall on a dinosaur walk cycle. If we watch it backwards, the compression on the foot before it lifts off will look like an overlapping action after the foot lands. If it looks stiff because it’s not there, we have a clue that it might be a missing anticipation.

Unintended Anticipation

One final thing to watch for is a form of unintended anticipation. Usually this is when something starts to move before it should—like a head starting to rotate back before it’s hit by a punch.

The problem tends arise from setting keys for the head and the punch on the same frames rather than making sure you have enough breakdowns so that the head does not turn until the punch has actually landed.

Good luck, animators! Be sure to check back as we continue to our next principle: Staging.  

Chris Hurtt Animation Mentor

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